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Publisher and Contributing Writer

Photograph: First National Bank of Opelousas in the 1890s. The bank was first located in the Ealer Buildfing shown to the right in this photograph. In 1892, the building to the left was constructed on King’s Corner, and the bank moved to that location at that time. (Carola Lillie Hartley Collection.)

Studying the history of Opelousas for so many years, I’ve discovered many firsts for the town that I like to share. I enjoy researching to find things like when did Opelousas get its first bank. Here is what I found about the start of the banking industry in Opelousas.

It seems the first bank in Opelousas was established before 1837. According to the Ordinances of the Opelousas Board of Police on October 13, 1837, the Bank of Louisiana at Opelousas was in operation when the town issued its first money that year. The following decade on July 8, 1847 the St. Landry Whig newspaper stated Evariste Debaillon was a cashier of the Bank of Louisiana Branch on Landry Street. In the early 1850s Opelousas newspaper reports indicated there was a bank located just south of the courthouse, which would be on Landry Street.

The Civil War disrupted banking and business activities in Opelousas for some time, and there was no mention of a bank until years later. Yet there were advertisements for boarding rooms and businesses located in what was known as the Old Bank House on Landry Street. This building was more than likely the original Bank of Louisiana at Opelousas established in the 1830s.

In 1871, after years without a local bank, Opelousas merchants called a special meeting to organize a bank for the community. Although there was a lot of interest in the idea, there was not much interest in investment. The bank could not be established.

1871 notice of the First National Bank of Opelousas subscribers meeting that ran in the Opelousas Courier newspaper in May of that year.

For the rest of the decade local papers reported the need for a bank. This continued throughout the next decade, and by April of 1889, the St. Landry Democrat newspaper reported due to the successful and expanding businesses in town and in the parish, there was a definite need to establish a bank in Opelousas.

On September 28th of that year the Opelousas Courier reported the following: “A small bank in Opelousas would help the town wonderfully, and at the same time be a most profitable investment for those who might take stock in it. Why is it that some of our idle capital is not invested in the banking business?”

On April 8, 1890 the Weekly Messenger in St. Martinville reported: “Opelousas is soon to have a National Bank, a Texas gentleman has offered to put up $30,000.00, if the citizens would raise $20,000.00. The Opelousas Courier says that most of the amount has been subscribed and Opelousas will have a National Bank.”

July 5, 1890 advertisement for the First National Bank of Opelousas that ran in the Opelousas Courier newspaper.

 J. T. Skipper of Dallas, Texas, used his own money as the initial investment, with the citizens of Opelousas contributing the balance to make the $50,000.00 necessary to start the bank.

On May 3, 1890, the Opelousas Courier reported: “The Ealer building, adjoining the Courier office on the corner of Main and Landry streets, has been secured for the First National Bank of Opelousas, and is being rapidly fitted up, with a view of having it ready for occupation within a few days. The bank is already transacting its regular business in its temporary quarters at J. Meyers & Co.’s and will be in full operation on the 10th.”  However, there was a delay as the large iron safe did not arrive on time and the opening had to be rescheduled.

On June 7, 1890, the St. Landry Democrat reported the Opelousas bank would soon be opened, and on July 5th that paper stated: “The first National Bank of Opelousas has received its papers from Washington (DC) and is now ready for business.” The first board of directors elected to serve the new bank were Alphonse Levy, Ant Dietlein, E. Latreyte, Ike Roos, J. T. Skipper, S. Joseph Wilson and Julius Meyers. Officers were A. Levy, President; S. Joseph Wilson, Vice-president and J. T. Skipper, Cashier.

The first annual meeting of the stockholders of the First National Bank of Opelousas was held on Tuesday, January 13, 1891. An election was held for seven directors to serve during the ensuing year. Elected were A. Levy, J. Meyers, A. Dietlein, I. Roos, J. M. Litchenstein and J. T. Skipper. Officers: A. Levy, President; A. Dietlein, Vice-president; and J. T. Skipper, Cashier.

In 1892, the bank purchased land on the southwest corner of Main and Landry streets, known as King’s Corner, and a new bank building was constructed. The building was described in the St. Landry Democrat newspaper on May 14 of that year as a “handsome new brick edifice, with its elegant dome and magnificent eagle.”

In December the same paper reported “The Opelousas National Bank (1st National Bank of Opelousas) is in a flourishing condition. Its business has grown from the beginning and lately it has been unexpectedly good. Its new building, constructed this year, is an ornament to the town.” In January of 1893, the same paper reported the bank was in very prosperous condition, with deposits being over $100,000.00, with a cash reserve of over $50,000.00 and a surplus of $10,000.00.

Just one year later, the board of directors of the 1st National Bank voted to cease being a national bank and to become a state bank. It seems as a national bank there were rules that prevented them from doing things like making real estate loans. And with the opening of the Washington State Bank in neighboring Washington, LA, the Opelousas bank now had competition. The directors felt it was wise to become a state bank, so it could participate in more of the community’s business.

On February 10, 1894, the First National Bank of Opelousas became the St. Landry State Bank. The bank continued to prosper over the years and eventually became the St. Landry Bank and Trust Company that operates in Opelousas today.